Spain is the fourth best country in the world for expatriates to live in, according to the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey 2019 – an annual ranking of countries according to expat preferences.
Spain has gone from thirteenth place in 2018 to fourth place in 2019, a jump of nine places up the league table, leaving it behind Switzerland (1), Singapore (2), and Canada (3), and just ahead of New Zealand (5).
What is the HSBC Expat Explorer survey, now in its twelfth year? According to the bank it “is the longest running independent global survey of expats. Commissioned by HSBC Expat and conducted by a third party research company YouGov, 18,059 expats based in over 30 countries or territories were questioned in 2019.”
Spain top for quality of life, and worst for career progression
HSBC base the ranking on 15 criteria grouped into three categories: Living, Aspiring, & Little Expats (kids). You can see the how Spain performs according to the criteria in the tables below.
Spain comes top of the class (1st) for quality of life, and bottom of the class (33rd) for career progression. It’s a familiar story that reflects the experiences of many expats I know. Spain’s a great place to live, but good luck finding a job that pays well and rewards ambition.
With some notable exceptions like Inditex (Zara) the Spanish corporate culture sucks, and the top jobs are reserved for loyal locals. I could be wrong but I think all the top jobs in the IBEX-35 group of companies are taken by locals. The UK, in contrast, is much more open to foreign talent; the boss of Lloyds Bank, for example, is Portuguese, and even the Governor of the Bank of England is a foreigner. That would be unheard of in Spain.
On the career front, at least Spain scores highly (3rd) for work / life balance. Your career might not take off, but at least you’ll get lots of days off, with something like 14 bank holidays a year (compared to 8 in the UK), most of them conveniently on a Thursday or Tuesday so you can turn it into a long weekend with Friday or Monday off, something known locally as a puente, or bridge. I sometimes get the feeling that it’s hard to do any work with puentes coming around almost every other week at least somewhere in Spain, and the kids home from school yet again.
Spain’s main competitors France and Portugal don’t shine in 2019
France and Portugal, traditionally Spain’s biggest competitors as an expat destination in Europe, didn’t shine last year. France was in 17th place, down 7, and Portugal isn’t even ranked in the top 30. I don’t really understand that because, from what I can tell, Portugal is a wonderful country to live in.
The UK is in 27th place, down 7 from 20th last year, and Ireland is in 14th place, up 3 places in a year.
A big climber this year is Turkey, which went from 22nd place in 2018 to 7th place now in order of expat preferences. I used to live in Istanbul in the early 80s, when there was plenty of political violence and military coups, and I remember loving the place. I’m not sure I’d like to live there now under Erdogan, and neither do a lot of Turks, which explains why they are one of the biggest investors in Golden Visa properties in Barcelona.
You can see the full ranking here: https://expatexplorer.hsbc.com/survey/